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A Guide to Vegan Supplements

Jason Hughes
Published by Jason Hughes
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 6, 2022

As a vegan, especially one who lifts weights, knowing which supplements you really need is crucial. With so much conflicting (and often, misleading) information out there, it can be confusing to determine which nutrients are key and what to look for in vegan supplements.

This guide explores the benefits of several vegan supplements and explains how to find high-quality ones, including the best vegan iron supplement and the best supplements for aging skin. In this article, we'll cover:

Understanding Vegan Supplements

Everyone has their own individual reasons for going vegan. Whether it was motivated by health, ethical, or environmental concerns, you’ve decided to ditch meat and other animal products altogether, including eggs and dairy. Going hand in hand with this decision, you’ve also made fitness a priority, and it’s more critical than ever that your body gets the nutrients it needs in order to maximize the hard-earned results of exercise and weightlifting.

Cutting out animal-based products in your diet requires extra diligence when it comes to getting essential vitamins and nutrients. Dietary supplements can help you avoid coming up short, optimizing muscle growth and strength — but where to start? How do you know, for example, which is the best vegan iron supplement?
Those gains are calling, so here’s everything you need to know about taking supplements as a vegan.

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient that plays a key role in metabolism, specifically in the processing of amino and fatty acids. One of the most chemically complex vitamins, B12 is essential to healthy function in the nervous and circulatory systems, as well as the growth of red blood cells in your bone marrow.

What Supplements Should Every Vegan Take?

B12

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient that plays a key role in metabolism, specifically in the processing of amino and fatty acids. One of the most chemically complex vitamins, B12 is essential to healthy function in the nervous and circulatory systems, as well as the growth of red blood cells in your bone marrow.
Vegan weightlifters and bodybuilders rely heavily on the breakdown of protein into amino acids. These amino acids are critical for the repair and growth of muscle fibers after a workout — in other words, visible gains. Plant and algae sources of B12 are simply not reliable, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Because it’s most abundant in foods from animal sources such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk, it’s important for vegans to supplement B12.

Vitamin D

Can you imagine having strong muscles without strong bones? A lack of Vitamin D can lead to weak, brittle bones, which are essential to having a strong body overall. Vitamin D also helps the body absorb minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, all of which are important for muscle contraction.

Not only is Vitamin D usually found in meat, eggs, and dairy, but interestingly, cooking it also reduces the nutritional content found in many food sources. For these reasons, vegans should include Vitamin D in their supplement regimen.

Omega 3

Omega-3 fatty acids help lower and regulate blood pressure, with additional benefits for mental health and inflammation in the body. There’s evidence that these fatty acids also provide some specific advantages for weightlifters and bodybuilders, including:

  • Less muscle soreness following a workout
  • More intense workouts, due to reduced inflammation
  • Maintenance of muscle size and growth as you age

The most common food sources for Omega-3s are fish and fish oil, but vegans can get these essential nutrients from plant sources and vegan supplements, which also happen to be some of the best supplements for aging skin.

Iron

Figuratively pumping iron regularly without getting enough actual iron may completely defeat the purpose. As a nutrient, iron helps your body produce myoglobin, which delivers oxygen to the muscles. A lack of sufficient oxygen in the muscles causes them to contract less efficiently as you exercise, resulting in increased fatigue.
The body tends to absorb iron in supplement form very well, a stark contrast to the slow digestion process of red meat, poultry, and fish — all common food sources of iron. Boost the iron in your diet with fortified foods, plant sources, and the best vegan iron supplement, from Future Kind.

Calcium

You may remember the old “milk does a body good” commercials that featured athletic models as the future versions of children pondering the benefits of dairy. While calcium is certainly an important nutrient for healthy bones, it also regulates the contraction of your muscles. Your body releases calcium when your nerves stimulate the muscles.

Common food sources for calcium include dairy products, salmon, and sardines. Support your fitness with supplements containing calcium. Not only will your bones and muscles thank you, but your blood cells and nerves will also.

Zinc

Every great fitness routine includes plenty of time for rest and recovery. Zinc helps boost the quality of your sleep and recuperation after tough workouts. It also supports immune function and helps you recover quickly from wounds and injuries.

Bodybuilders and weightlifters in particular can also appreciate how zinc helps the body expend calories as fuel, rather than storing them as fat. Many athletes get their zinc from animal sources, so look for vegan supplements for this critical mineral.

What Supplements Should Be Increased When Lifting?

Protein Powder

Whey vs Plant ProteinProtein intake is absolutely crucial to building muscle and improving strength. Countless studies have shown that athletes and those who train regularly need to substantially increase their protein intake to account for more simultaneous muscle mass and sweat loss. Protein is also an important part of the muscle repair and recovery process.

As a vegan who lifts, you need high-quality, non-animal-derived protein sources. There are many protein powders available but each product has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. Use research, taste-testing, and trial and error to find the right one for you.

How to Ensure Supplements are Vegan

As a vegan, you have to be extra diligent about checking labels. When shopping to support your lifestyle, choose supplements that are 100% free of animal products or animal-derived ingredients. You also want to ensure the supplement is a good source of the nutrients outlined in this guide.

Pay close attention to supplements containing the following ingredients, as they may come from animals:

  • Bone meal
  • Carotene
  • Chondroitin
  • Collagen
  • Cysteine
  • Estrogen
  • Fish oil
  • Gelatin
  • Glucosamine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Glycerides
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Lactose
  • Lecithin
  • Linoleic acid
  • Lipase
  • Propolis
  • Progesterone
  • Steroids
  • Tyrosine

Common Symptoms of Vegan Deficiencies

vegan womanVegans, especially those who work out regularly, have to pay strict attention to what and how much they’re eating. Here are some common symptoms of nutrient deficiencies that could affect vegans.

  • Vitamin B12: Tiredness, lethargy, light-headedness, inability to exercise for long periods, rapid heart rate and/or palpitations, bleeding or bruising easily, weight loss
  • Vitamin D: Loss of bone density, increased risk of fracture, osteoporosis, bone pain, muscle weakness
  • Omega-3: Skin irritation and dryness, joint pain and stiffness, dry eyes, hair loss, depression
  • Iron: Lowered brain function, anemia, lowered immunity
  • Calcium: Decreased bone health, increased risk of fracture, osteoporosis
  • Zinc: Lack of alertness, weight loss, loss of appetite, diarrhea, impaired sense of taste and smell

FAQs

Why do vegans need supplements?

Many essential nutrients needed for strength training and muscle development come from animal sources such as meat, dairy, and eggs. Vegans need supplements to ensure they’re getting enough of these essential vitamins and minerals.

Are vegan supplements better?

Vegan supplements generally work just as effectively and in the same way as their non-vegan counterparts. If you’re considering vegan supplements specifically because you have ethical and environmental concerns about animal-based products, this route can help you meet your nutrient goals without compromise.

How are vegan supplements made?

Vegan supplements are typically made in laboratories, using processes and ingredients that are 100% free of animal products.

What are vegan B12 supplements made from?

Vegan B12 supplements are created synthetically through the fermentation of bacterial cultures, which produce B12.

Where is vegan collagen from?

Vegan collagen is a tricky concept. There’s technically no such thing, in fact, as collagen is found in hair, nails, bones, and skin, and is typically sourced from fish and beef. Plant-based collagen, however, a result of cutting-edge technology and science, provides the same benefits and is derived from yeast and the bacteria P. pastoris.

Sources

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/#h3
https://www.eatrightpro.org/~/media/eatrightpro%20files/practice/position%20and%20practice%20papers/position%20papers/vegetarian-diet.ashx
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7658944/#:~:text=Calcium%2C%20magnesium%2C%20phosphorus%2C%20and%20iron%20are%20important%20to%20a,carrying%20capacity%20of%20the%20blood.
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fish-oil-bodybuilding
https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-Consumer/#:~:text=Your%20body%20uses%20iron%20to,that%20provides%20oxygen%20to%20muscles.
https://www.muscleandfitness.com/flexonline/flex-nutrition/importance-zinc-bodybuilders/#:~:text=Bodybuilders%20should%20get%20in%20at,of%20ZMA%20or%20your%20multivitamin.
https://www.sciencealert.com/keep-an-eye-on-these-4-nutrients-if-you-ve-gone-vegan
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15050-vitamin-d--vitamin-d-deficiency
https://www.healthline.com/health/zinc-deficiency#symptoms
https://www.iamgoingvegan.com/how-are-b12-supplements-made/
https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/what-is-vegan-collagen#:~:text=Vegan%20collagen%20is%20made%20from,And%20viola%2C%20vegan%20collagen.

 


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